The sun cast a warm light across the city market. Two women wandered through the shops and stalls. Patrons jostled one another. Shop owners called out. Bicycles weaved through the rows of pedestrians. Taxis crawled between the stalls and bikes. Through it all, the women wandered at their leisure.
They saw an elderly fellow step out of a shop down the street. He hesitated, a bag in each hand. Someone knocked his elbow from behind. His groceries tumbled to the ground.
"This is yours," said the quickest one. She stepped forward and scooped up a can of beans as it rolled. Her friend grabbed a plastic bottle as it spun in place. Other folks nearby saw what they were doing. They crouched, each to pick up an item and return it to the bag.
"That's what I like to see." A stranger approached. His clothes looked expensive and well tailored. He extended his hand in greeting. "I like helping people. And I like people who help others."
The older, shorter woman shook his hand. She felt a professional grip, strong and energetic. She looked him in the eye as he described how he was running for re-election as their state representative.
"I'm just here to remind you that I'm looking out for you," he concluded. A tall woman in a business suit walked up and touched him on the elbow. Another aide approached. They pointed up the street and headed off.
"That man is a criminal," said the woman who'd shaken his hand. She wiped her wet palm on her clothes and shook her head.
"Yeah, too bad," agreed the old man. He had stepped out of range for the handshake.
"How do you know?" asked the younger woman.
"Didn't you see the way he behaves?" Her friend pointed to the politician's back. "His friendliness is calculated. His gaze is hostile. His hands and posture betray his intent."
"He didn't pick up any groceries," the man added. "Help came from all around, thank you very much. But not from him."
"He represents us. He votes for us."
"And you're fooled by that?" The shorter woman pointed up the street. There, the representative and his aides had re-positioned themselves. They rushed to greet a family as the family exited an expensive shop. "Look, the baby starts crying as he approaches. The baby understands. But his parents don't."
"I'm sure his parents are listening to his words. They hear what he says and try to give him the benefit of the doubt."
"When a politician announces that he supports family values, look to his actions. Has he worked hard to keep his marriage good? Has he supported his children? Or does he ignore his family in favor of mistresses?"
"You can't pay much attention to anything that anyone says," the old man agreed.
"Including you two?"
"Be skeptical of everyone. Why not?"
"Well, what about friends?"
"As your friend," said the older woman, "I'd say that you should judge everyone. If someone makes a promise, watch that they keep the promise. Otherwise, words aren't much use."
The younger woman had been the first to leap to assistance. She had also been ready to trust her representative. She remembered voting for him.
"All sorts of words are important to me," she said. "They affect my feelings. What about complements? What about insults?"
"Insults are people being mean. That's the action to watch for."
"What about lying?"
"Lying is important not for the words but because it's cheating," said her friend. "When someone spins the truth out of self-interest, it hurts others. That's why I don't pay much attention to anyone's description of events or of themselves."
"Statements of intention are probably false," said the old man. "Or incomplete."
"They can be sincere," the woman allowed. "But they can be wrong despite the sincerity. If you want to know how someone really thinks, watch what they do. That's the way you can understand if their words have meaning."
The man they'd helped nodded and waved for a taxi. The first one passed him by. Then another slowed for him but it proved to be full. He set his groceries by his feet and hailed with both arms. The women joined in. After a minute of calling and waving, they managed to pull over a taxi for the fellow.
"Thank you," he said. He picked up his grocery bags.
As he stepped toward his ride, the state representative and his aides hopped into it. They slammed the door behind them before the old man could reach it. The representative shouted to the driver. One of his aides waved to the women who had hailed the cab. The other waved to the family with the baby.
The old man sighed. He set down a bag and raised his arm for the next taxi.